Prrrretty Polly! Hello? Hello?!


Anyone who’s seen the kids’ movie, ‘Paulie’, may look with envy and fascination upon the prospect of owning their very own parrot. While many parrots outlive their parents, so to speak, it’s definitely worth the effort to take the time to train your parrot from young, for your own sake, as well as for the person to whom you bequeath your parrot one day … no-one likes a biting, squawking, feathered mean machine!  

This is the first article in a series on training your parrot. We begin by highlighting important pointers that every parrot owner should be aware of. Training should start in the baby phase already. We all realise the importance of teaching and guiding a puppy to be a confident, well-adjusted, obedient adult dog. It is even more important to teach our new baby parrot all the basic life skills it needs to be a confident, well-mannered and happy adult parrot. The last thing we want is for the cute little baby parrot to turn into a biting, screaming, food tossing, feather plucking, human stalker one day.

Remember that parrots have the potential to outlive us and may have to be re-homed one day. Other people may also have to look after your parrot when you go on holiday. It is therefore important to have a well-socialised bird. Parrots go through different phases during their lifetimes and basic training is the only way to have control over them and guide them through these phases. Your parrot needs to know where its place in the household is. Do not try to teachyour new baby parrot too much, too fast during the first week or so while he is still adjusting to his new home.

Keep handling to the minimum until he settles down completely in his new surroundings. (You will not be able to teach him anything while he is constantly screaming for attention or food anyway). It is very, very important to ignore any calling and screaming in the beginning. Resist the urge to go to him when he demands attention.

Only go to the baby’s cage when he is quiet and calm. Turn around and walk away if he starts screaming when you go to his cage. Wait it out, even if he seems to take forever to quiet down. He will soon learn that only calm, quiet behaviour gets rewarded. Do not feel sorry for him, go to him, talk to him or pick him up while he is running up and down in his cage to get your attention, even though he is young and cute. It may sound strict and heartless, but it is good advice.

Show him that all his needs are met. Give him enough food, water, a safe cage and lots of love. Show him that it is not necessary to demand anything. (Remember – demanding may sound like cute little baby noises in the beginning, but may turn into loud, persistent screaming when the bird is an adult). It is not the amount of time spent with the bird that is important, but the quality of time. The bird shouldn’t just be kissed and cuddled every time you interact with him. Use the time wisely to guide and teach your baby bird the very important life skills rather. He must be provided with opportunities to learn and make decisions. Take the parrot to a neutral room for training sessions away from distractions. Parrots have a great need to learn and if their intellectual needs aren’t stimulated, they will be handicapped adult birds.

An untrained parrot is facing a very restricted life alone in his cage. “Practice makes perfect”. We teach birds with the principles of patterning. (Each time they go through the motions of a task, that activity becomes both easier and faster to do next time, until, after a while, it becomes difficult to do something different). The more parrots do certain things, the more likely they are to do it again. We must try every day to pattern the positive actions of a bird and not the negative ones.

The following guidelines are very important to know and keep in mind when training your bird:

(Sally Blanchard’s nurturing guidance fundamentals)


  • All interactions with your parrot should be trust building and not trust destroying.
  • Parrots are more comfortable with people who are comfortable with them. Relax and do not be scared or nervous around your bird. He will sense it and will then also be nervous around you.
  • Parrot behaviour is normally a response to a situation in the house. Many problem behaviours are a reaction to our behaviours. If we don’t change our behaviour towards our parrots, they will not change their behaviour towards us.
  • Basic training will determine the parrot’s lifelong pet potential.
  • Birds are instinctively wild and don’t know automatically how to be good pets. Without positive guidance, parrots will develop substitute behaviours that we will experience as bad behaviour.
  • Parrots normally respond to a stimulus in the wild with a natural, instinctive action like flying away. If this natural action is blocked in our living rooms, the parrot will replace this natural action with an unnatural response. Once these displacement behaviours become patterned, they replace normal behaviour. The parrot will continue these behaviours as long as they are rewarded. These new habits are very difficult to break unless we change our approach.
  • We have to help our parrots to adjust to our lives which has very little similarity to their natural lives.
  • We need to be patient, consistent and very understanding.
  • Cuddling, petting, preening and attention are important in keeping our parrots tame and happy and free from behavioural problems.
  • Parrots need focused “in your face” attention as well as side to side passive interactive attention.
  • Always work in a positive, consistent way with your parrot to avoid mixed messages and negative reactions.
  • Parrots will pick up instinctively when we are stressed, angry, upset, impatient or in a hurry. You have to lower your own energy before interacting with the bird. Do not handle your parrot if you are in a bad mood.
  • Parrots are social animal and need to be with their human families and share in their activities.
  • Parrots are physically affectionate.
  • Punishment, aggression, abandonment and quick fixes will destroy trust. Never force your will onto your parrot. Rather guide it to co-operate.
  • Do not leave the parrot to be in control of his own life. He will make a bad job out of it.
  • Parrots are drama addicts. Never reward bad behaviour with drama.
  • Losing hand control of a parrot is the first step in losing tameness of that parrot. Maintain the ability to handle the parrot around his cage to ensure good pet potential. It is essential to stick train and towel train parrots so that every member of the family can handle their parrot.
  • We need to establish ourselves as the flock leaders in the cage territory and should be able to easily take our parrot out of his cage with the “up” command.
  • We must be decisive and assertive with our parrots without being aggressive or overbearing.
  • We should never force our parrots to do anything that will frighten or traumatize them.
  • It is our responsibility to protect our parrots from dangerous and frightening situations. Anticipate possible reactions from the parrot before doing something with him. Avoid situations that could be trust destroying.
  • Parrots are more likely to learn from people, and will be less aggressive in a neutral room.
  • We should gradually and regularly introduce new objects, people and situations to the parrot so they become familiar and acceptable to the parrot.
  • No matter how hard we work, each and every parrot will be difficult from time to time.
  • Behavioural problems are never the parrot’s fault!!!
  • The parrots mouth is made for ripping, shredding, digging, slicing, chomping, sawing and chewing. He needs a job every day to keep him occupied and mentally healthy,

Remember, you are rearing an adult bird, not a baby bird. Be a loving but firm, consistent parent/leader. It is very important that your parrot knows the following basic rules to live in harmony with his human family.

What parrots should know:


1. “STEP UP”

The first and most important command to master is the “step up” command. We use this command for the same reasons that we use the “sit”command in a dog. This is an essential tool in developing a relationship with your parrot and also the only way to handle and control him.


  1. Make eye contact and smile.
  2. Make your intentions to pick him up clear. Ask him if he wants to come with you and call him closer
  3. Push your fingers gently into his lower belly (at the junction of his legs and chest).
  4. Say “step up!” in a clear, decisive but friendly manner.
  5. If he does, reward him with lots of praise and a small piece of peanut or sunflower seed.
  6. Relax and be confident. Do not be scared or hesitant. He will be comfortable with you if you are comfortable with him. The parrot will feel insecure on a shaky, hesitant human hand and will be reluctant to step up onto that hand next time.
  7. Don’t give the parrot confusing, mixed messages. Don’t just hold your hand in front of him and expect him to know what to do. Don’t pull away every time he is about to step onto your hand. (Some parrots will reach with their beaks or “test” the human hand he is about to step up onto.) He is not biting, but if you pull away every time it will confuse him. Do not wiggle your fingers in front of his face for instance. This will only teach the parrot to get annoyed and to bite the silly fingers.
  8.  He must learn to trust you fully. Do not let him fall. Use your thumb to gently hold his feet on your fingers.
  9. Use this command every time you want to take him in or out of his cage and when you want to pick him up. He will master it in no time.
  10. Practice these step-ups daily. It may not seem necessary now, but it will be very necessary when he is an adult.
  11. Let him step slowly from your one hand to the next in a “laddering” way. Teach him to step from one person to the next.
  12. Teach him to step up on a stick as well. If your parrot is “stick” trained,everybody in the family will be able to handle him with confidence. This will help you to maintain tameness, no matter what.
  13. Remember –Step up is step up! Be consistent and do not give up when you need to pick him up. The purpose is not to be the boss and force him, but to make him eagerly comply.
  14. Reward him after every successful step up.
  15. Do not allow the parrot to step onto your arm or the back of your hand. You will have no control over him if he is sitting there. He will fall easily when frightened or when you move too quickly. This may break the trust.
  16.  Do not allow your parrot to run up to your shoulder. Interrupt him with your other hand when he tries to run up your arm. Rather place him on your shoulder with the “step” command if you want him there. (More said about this later)
  17. Do not pick the baby bird up with your hands. This may be easy now, but remember – you are not raising a baby bird but an adult bird with his own strong will. Rather teach the youngster now, while he is compliant, to come to you and step up on your hand.
  18. Parrots should be taught to share their cages with their humans. Do not allow the parrot to become territorial around his cage. This will lead to biting and loss of hand control and ultimately tameness. Use a stick to take him out if he starts to get nippy and stubborn.


The next important thing for the parrot to learn is to sit still on his cage or perch. Put him on his stand and tell him to sit still. Move away a little and reward the bird if he sits still. If the parrot jumps off, pick him up, tell him to be a good bird and to sit still and then put him back on his stand. He mustconsistently end up in exactly the same spot where he is coming from. There shouldn’t be a reward for jumping off. If he keeps on jumping off, warn him that you are going to put him in “jail”. Put him back in his cage and walk away when he does it again. Try again later. Reward him if he stays on the perch. Move away further and further and reward him every time he sits still. Be consistent, even if it is adorable and flattering that he follows you around. You must be able to know that you can leave him on his perch at all times and trust him to stay there and not get into trouble when your back is turned.


Teach the parrot “Side to side” interaction rather than constant physical interaction. (It is the same as teaching a child not to cling to you all day long, but to rather sit next to you and play with his toys). It is important to teach the baby bird how to play with its toys and not to be scared of them. Show great interest in the toys yourself and praise him every time he plays with it. Alternate the toys regularly and keep it interesting. He may become interested in a new toy on a different occasion. It is very important to give the parrot a “job” every day. Parrots need to chew “something” and if there isn’t “something” he will spent that extra time on his feathers with devastating results.Remember to teach him that you are not his toy. You will not be able to play with him 24 hours a day. Show him how to keep himself busy and to be independent from you. He needs destructible and indestructible toys. Pine cones, fruit and willow tree branches, paper, leather, cardboard, palm leaves,paper towel rolls,computer paper, mirrors, egg cartons, pine blocks, clothes pins, toys made for babies and children, and fabrics make nice cheap toys.


Never allow your parrot to climb on your shoulder whenever he wants to.

Parrots do not automatically know what we expect from them and how to behave in the human flock. Parrots are naturally curious and strong willed. We can’t put them on our shoulders and expect them to just sit there and behave like little angels. Most parrots will automatically and immediately nibble on your ears, jewelry, glasses or moles. Every time you say “no” a hundred times over or laugh or scream or chase him around he gets a drama reward and will turn misbehaviour into a game. You will just pattern him to become aggressive and disobedient on your shoulder. Take him off gently and quietly the minute he misbehaves. Rather hold him at chest level or on your knee where you can make proper eye contact with him. Aggression will definitely develop if a bird is allowed to see you as his perch that needs to be defended. Again, he may seem well behaved on your shoulder now, but may cause severe injury to your face when he suddenly becomes aggressive as a mature, hormonal adult parrot.


  • The parrot is not allowed on your shoulder unless you have established proper control over him and he accepts your authority.
  • The parrot is only allowed on your shoulder if you put him there.
  • The parrot is not allowed on your shoulder unless he readily steps up onto your hand from there.
  •  The parrot is not allowed on the shoulder if he shows aggression there. Make sure the parrot has something to do when he is on your shoulder. Give him a toy to play with or make fun “parrot jewelry” to hang around your neck while he is there.


Continual, meaningless repetition of words is not effective in teaching a parrot to speak. Parrots will learn words that is said with excitement and used in context much quicker. Say the words clearly, with enthusiasm and use it in association with people, situations and objects. Use the same words consistently for the same things. Name everything you give to the parrot and repeat the same words every time you do anything. If you want the bird to say a certain phrase, provide an excited response when he says it and repeat the phrase in context regularly.


Babies start to mumble from a few weeks of age. They learn simple words that are repeated with enthusiasm first. They start talking well from a few months of age, but may also be talking well after a year only. Babies start practicing words in private first. (Simply incoherent mumbling). Pay attention to mumbling and repeat the words clearly when heard. Also reward every human sound with enthusiasm. Be patient- it takes time. A non-talking bird is not necessarily unhappy. It may just need more stimulation. Parrots may learn new words, no matter how large their vocabulary or what age. Parrots learn to talk to be part of social group, get attention, entertain themselves, and express their need for interaction and stimulation. Always watch your language and body”language”. Words with hard consonants (like swear words) are easier to learn, and very difficult to unlearn. Teach the parrot to talk first and then start to whistle. Don’t whistle too much. Birds will rather whistle than talk. The hard pitch whistling may be fun to make for the parrot but can become very annoying to humans. Answer all questions addressed to the parrot with an exciting answer. This way he will remember the answer and give it in context. Tapes and cd’s that play the whole day long is not very effective. It may help to use the“model/rival” technique. The favourite person holds up an object and labels it. He then shows another person who gives the wrong answer with no response from the favourite person. The rival person (parrot’s less favorite person) then labels it right and gets a very excited reward. Then the attention is transferred to the bird. If he identifies it correctly, he is given the object and praised.



  • Remember that parrots are vocal early morning and late afternoon. This is normal.
  • It is natural for birds to keep in contact with each other by calling backwards and forwards all the time when out of sight of each other.Teach the bird to use an acceptable word or a whistle as a contact call when he wants to know where you are. Do not answer the bird when it is screeching or making unacceptable bird sounds. Only answer when he is using the acceptable call. Greet him with this contact call every time
  • Set an example by only calling back softly or whistle the same tune every time.
  •  Do not scream in the house.
  •  Never look at him, answer him, scream at him or run over and cover the cage with drama when he screams. This will only encourage more screaming.



  • It is vital for a parrot to groom himself and look after his feathers. If you notice any abnormal or excessive preening though – go to your avian vet immediately.
  • Never, under any circumstances give your parrot attention for plucking, chewing or snapping its feathers.



  • Bathing is normal for birds and encourages preening which is necessary to keep feathers clean and healthy. Without bathing, the feathers may become dry and brittle; the bird may become itchy and start to feather pluck. Use a spray bottle and spray a fine mist that will fall on the parrot like rain. Do not spray a strong stream directly at the parrot. Hide the spray bottle and keep it lower than him. It works very well to take the parrot outside and use the hosepipe. It is very important to put your bird in the sun every day. Remember not to forget him in the hot sun. It may also help to take the parrot into the shower. Be careful not to let the parrot slip or get water in its lungs. Never punish a bird by spraying him with water. Don’t use a hairdryer. The hot air can dry the feathers and some new hairdryers has non-stick coatings on the element that can poison the bird. Some parrots like to bath on their own in a shallow dish. Put the parrot in a large empty bowl with his favourite toys or treats. Let him get used to the bowl. Then dampen the floor of the bowl a little. Use more and more water every day. Praise the bird when he starts playing in the water.
  • Touch the parrot’s toes regularly. Touch his body gently from head to toes as much as possible every day. Make a little cuddling game out of it. The parrot must get used to you opening his wings and touching his body and feet without getting angry.
  • Play the peek-a-boo game in a towel to get the parrot used to towel handling. Put the parrot on a towel that is draped over your knee, then slowly pick up the corners and cover the parrot and your head in the towel. Cuddle him in the towel. Learn to carefully pick him up with a towel from the front. This makes it easier to hand him to the vet in the consulting room.
  •  Feed the parrot regularly with warm baby porridge to keep him used to syringe feeding. This will make it easier to give medicines in future. Make sure you do not teach him to beg for food again.
  • Don’t allow any person to grab scissors and destroy your parrot’s wings. This is the number one leading cause of feather plucking and nervous behaviour in young parrots. Ask the veterinarian to cut the bird’s wings properly.



  • Do not allow your parrot to become a one-person bird. Even if he has a favorite person, it doesn’t mean he may bite everybody else in the house. Never laugh, scream or interfere when the parrot bites a family member. This will only encourage the biting. Each family member should spend a little time with the parrot every day. Pass the bird regularly, in a gentle manner from one person to the next. Each person in the house will eventually develop his own type of relationship with the bird by providing him with something special that no one else does.
  • Do not let him climb in and out of his own cage as and when he feels like it. Always let him step up on a stick and take him in and out of his cage rather. He must learn to co-operate and share his cage with humans. This will maintain the parrot’s cage tameness and avoid territorial biting.
  • Do not allow him to roam through the house like he wants to. There are too many very dangerous situations he can get himself into. The parrot must be dependant on humans for transport from one area to the next rather. This transportation dependence will teach the parrot to co-operate with every one in order to get to exciting, interesting places.
  • Introduce new objects, people and situations all the time. Do not force the parrot to interact with somebody if he doesn’t want to.
  •  Rather keep the parrot out of reach of small children. They give confusing, mixed messages to the bird all the time and will only teach him to bite.
  •  Introduce strangers slowly in a neutral room.
  •  People must lower their energy levels first before interacting with the bird.
  • Remember- All interaction with people should only be trust building and never trust destroying.


A lack of guidance is the number one reason parrots start to bite humans. It is important to set the rules in the house from the beginning. Do not allow the parrot to be in charge of his own life. He will make a bad job of it. Parrots need to be taught how to be good human companions. Parrots do not normally bite in nature. They posture and beak wrestle but would rather fly away the minute they perceive danger or aggression. In our homes they are caged and the wings are clipped, and they can’t react instinctively. The parrot may react instead with biting. Humans give parrots mixed messages all the time and unintentionally reward biting behaviour. We tend to pattern our birds to bite us.Your bird must be trained and given clear messages when you interact with him. When you ask him to step on your hand, make your intentions clear and give a calm, confident instruction. When the parrot bites you, respond without aggression or excitement. Do not let anybody else step in to “rescue” you or the bird. Say a quick “ow!” and “no!” and give him a quick “evil eye” Place the parrot down immediately. (Do not throw him on the ground). Do not scream and make a melodramatic scene. Stay calm. Put him back in his cage to calm down. Walk away and calm down as well. When you return to interact, practice a couple of step-ups again to establish authority. Do not take it personally. There is normally a “parrot reason” the parrot bit you. It is important to stand back, think and find the reason (not just an excuse) the parrot bit you and avoid the situations that lead to biting. Ask yourself the following: did you move too quickly? Was your own energy too high or were you angry or stressed? Were you focused on him and did you make your intentions clear? Did you give him a clear command? Did you read his body language before you picked him up? Did you interrupt him while he was eating or fighting with a toy? Did something or somebody startle him? Make sure it was really a bite and not just the parrot investigating with his beak. Remember- this was a biting incident and will only become a pattern if you act dramatically, punishes the parrot, reward him positively or negatively and let the same scenario play itself off every day! Parrots may become hormonal and territorial. The bird may be handled less and less when it bites until all hand tameness is lost.

Dr Anel Coetzee


©Pet’s Health

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